Incarnations: India in 50 Lives

By Prof Sunil Khilnani

On Going since May 2015 • Updated weekly

Over the course of 50 episodes, Sunil Khilnani, director of the King's India Institute in London, takes listeners on a whirlwind journey from ancient India to the 21st century through the prism of the life stories of 50 remarkable individuals. He will also explore their surprising afterlives, which illuminate both the astonishments and urgent conflicts of India today.

He begins with the Buddha, exploring the story of his life and how he has been reinvented in modern India by those who oppose the caste system. "Buddha's solution to suffering lay in the individual mind. But he was also sketching a new form of society," says Professor Khilnani. "He was a moral meritocrat, and to an extent a social one too."

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  Direct Link   Download 0 Minutes 12 Jun 2015

Prof. Sunil Khilnani profiles Birsa Munda, the young, charismatic healer who led his tribal community in revolt against the British and whose life, more than a century after his death, poses the question: 'Who owns India?' Scattered across the subcontinent, India's tribal peoples or Adivasis, match in size the populations of Germany or Vietnam. Yet the land rights of India's original inhabitants are regularly overridden in the name of development. One of history's great defenders of Adivasi rights was Birsa Munda, born in the late 19th century in what is now the north-eastern state of Jharkhand. At a time of famine and disease across northern India his community looked to the Birsa for healing and leadership. The young man who claimed he could turn bullets to water led a rebellion against the British, their Indian middlemen and Christian missionaries. The question 'Who owns India' takes Sunil Khilnani to a tribal community who are losing their land and access to food, fuel and water with the growing encroachment of luxury housing complexes - second homes for city dwellers. We also hear from author and political activist Arundhati Roy. "The fact that Adivasis still exist," she says, "is because people like Birsa Munda staged the beginnings of the battle against the takeover of their homeland. Though he died at the age of just 25, Birsa Munda has become a lasting symbol of tribal resistance. He's the only Adivasi whose portrait hangs in the Indian Parliament. "His was a firework of a life," says Sunil Khilnani, "but a life whose embers still burn". Producer: Jeremy Grange Executive Producer: Martin Smith Original Music composed by Talvin Singh.. . .